Book Blog Tour: River, Sing Out by James Wade


Categories: Contemporary / Literary Fiction / Rural Fiction / Crime Fiction / Coming-of-Age
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Date of Publication: June 8, 2021 ** 315 Pages

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“And through these ages untold, the river did act as the lifeblood of all those things in it.”

Jonah Hargrove is celebrating his thirteenth birthday by avoiding his abusive father, when a girl named River stumbles into his yard, injured and alone. The teenager has stolen thousands of dollars’ worth of meth from her murderous, drug-dealing boyfriend, but lost it somewhere in the Neches River bottoms during her escape. Jonah agrees to help her find and sell the drugs so she can flee East Texas.

Chasing after them is John Curtis, a local drug kingpin and dog fighter, as well as River’s boyfriend, the dangerous Dakota Cade.

Each person is keeping secrets from the others—deadly secrets that will be exposed in violent fashion as all are forced to come to terms with their choices, their circumstances, and their own definition of God.

With a colorful cast of supporting characters and an unflinching violence juxtaposed against lyrical prose, River, Sing Out dives deep into the sinister world of the East Texas river bottoms, where oppressive poverty is pitted against the need to believe in something greater than the self.


”With echoes of Jim Harrison, Cormac McCarthy (and perhaps a smidge of Flannery O’Connor), River, Sing Out is a beautiful, brutal meditation on survival and love in the face of nearly unspeakable violence and depravity in an East Texas community ravaged by the meth trade. Taut, lyrical, and precise, the prose soars in this important new novel by James Wade.” —Elizabeth Wetmore, New York Times bestselling author of Valentine

”If you read one novel this year, make it this one. James Wade’s River, Sing Out, is an instant classic filled with characters that will break your heart, lyrical prose as haunted as the river it evokes, and a Southern Noir undertow that wholly sucks you in and keeps you turning the pages until it’s searing, masterful conclusion.” —May Cobb, author of The Hunting Wives

”Wade, whose striking debut, All Things Left Wild (2020), traveled back a century in Texas history, uses an unlikely friendship to explore an equally wild present-day landscape…A haunting fable of an impossible relationship fueled by elemental need and despair.” —Kirkus Reviews


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River, Sing Out certainly lives up to the praise it has received so far. The beauty of the language is stunning, and the author’s ability to reflect the minds of the various characters with such precision was one of the best parts of the book for me. From the young boy, Jonah, to John Curtis, and to the old man at the cabin, the differences in voice and characterization were sharp and each came across as such a believable person.

I enjoyed the narrator’s voice, as well. His section always presented in italics. And this quote was so revealing as to the mind of an old man experiencing his last days upon the earth as he lies in bed, listening to a young man building a coffin. “And to awaken each day is to be reborn as an old man, and to have a life lived over in the split second it takes to wipe away at half-flung eyes. And such eyes offering a bleak recounting of the world – a reminder of what waits outside of dreams. As if in some immeasurable flash, the brain must give an accounting of every breath ever taken, so as to bring to consciousness those memories lost each night.”

Going into that goodnight, is perhaps the hardest thing, and the essence of that is captured so profoundly in the mind of this old man. At first, the reader doesn’t know who this narrator is. Could it be the River itself? Is it the man who helps Jonah? That not knowing, and wanting to know, kept me reading long past times when I should have stopped, and when it finally becomes clear, that understanding is sweet.

In addition to great narrative, the dialogue in the story is terrific. I highlighted many sections that had made me smile when reading, including this exchange between Jonah and River. This is about mid-way into their quest to find the lost drugs, and River is lamenting about some of the bad choices she’s made. “God I’m an idiot.” she says.

“No you’re not.”

“Well then I’ve been acting real convincingly like I am.”

Jonah is a tragic hero, but also the one true “good” in this story, despite the things he does to survive. He captured my interest right away when I started reading the book, and that interest never faltered. I worried with him about the constant rain and the river rising, adding a another sense of impending doom just below the surface of the other dangers from his father and John Curtis. The threat of being taken out by the river, heightened the suspense and the drama, and I was always waiting for the next terrible thing that would happen to Jonah.

I loved this book and recommend it to readers who like to be entertained by lyrical writing, as well as have a story with depths of characterizations and truths to ponder.

James Wade lives and writes in the Texas Hill Country with his wife and daughter. He is the author of All Things Left Wild, which is a winner of the 2016 Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest, a winner of the 2021 Spur Award for Best Historical Fiction, and a winner of the 2021 Reading the West Award for Best Debut Novel. His fiction has appeared in various literary journals and magazines.






Two winners each receive an autographed first-edition hardcover copy of River, Sing Out
an autographed paperback copy of multiple award-winning All Things Left Wild.
(US only. Ends midnight, CDT, June 18, 2021)


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